Sunday, November 25, 2018
A close look at some Trump voters
The Forgotten, by Ben Bradlee, Jr., is the latest in a series of books by blue state liberals about red state Trump voters. It's unfortunate, as another reviewer of one of those books noted, that no comparable books by conservatives about blue state voters have appeared to balance them--we need to know how the other half sees us. Bradlee writes about Luzerne County in northeastern Pennsylvania, in the heart of what was once anthracite coal country. The county is 83% white, 11% Hispanic, and 5% black. Traditionally Democratic, it voted for Barack Obama over John McCain in 2008, 72,000 to 61,000 (with 2300 minor party votes) and for Obama over Mitt Romney in 2012 (64,000 to 58,000, again with 2300 write-in votes.) Two years ago, however, Donald Trump carried the county over Hillary Rodham Clinton, 79,000 to 52,000, and the minor party vote doubled to 4700 votes. The 27,000 margin for Trump was about half of his total 45,000 margin in the critical state of Pennsylvania. Note that the overall turnout fell significantly in 2012, but equaled the 2008 total in 2016.
Let me start with a point of my own. While millions of racists undoubtedly voted for Donald Trump in 2016, I don't see how anyone can look at those figures and argue that racism won him the election, either in Pennsylvania or in the nation as a whole. Barack Obama, who is black, carried the county with 72,000 (mostly white) votes in 2008 and 64,000 in 2012. Hillary Rodham Clinton won ony 52,000 votes in 2016. Sexism, it seems to me, might have cost the Democrats the election (although I'm not aware of any sophisticated statistical analysis making that case.) Racism could not have. Let's move ahead.
Bradlee's impressionistic but effective book consists of long interviews with a dozen Trump supporters about their individual political odysseys. He begins with now-former Congressman Lou Barletta, who rose to local prominence and got some national ink in 2006, when he was the Mayor of Hazleton, a small city that has now become majority Hispanic. In that year Barletta pushed through ordinances making it a crime to rent to or hire illegal aliens in an attempt to reduce the Hispanic influx. Other cities around the country followed his lead. Two federal courts ruled these measures unconstitutional on the grounds that they usurped federal authority, but, in a portent of things to come, Barletta became a local hero and was elected to Congress in his third race against a Democratic incumbent. He has served there ever since, although he gave up his seat to run for Senate this year.
I am not going to discuss the rest of Bradlee's subjects in detail, but perhaps some basic Democratic data is in order. He begins with four men. Vito DeLuca, 50, is a lawyer and self-described Reagan Democrat. Ed Harry, 72, is a Vietnam veteran and labor organizer who voted for a Republican presidential candidate for the first time in 2016. Marty Bacone, 54, owns a bar. Bruno Lanigan, 57, is a retired state trooper whose father was a leading figure in the A.F.L.-C.I.O. Four women come next. Lynette Villano, 72, is a long-time Republican, whose enthusiastic support for Trump led to a series of very painful email exchanges with her college-age son, who wrote, "Thanks to you and your kind, hatred and bigotry have been normalized and legitimized. I hope you're proud of that." Donna Kowalczyk, 60, has run a hair salon for many years, and lives in a neighborhood now blighted by shootings and prostitution. Kim Woodrosky,in her late 40s, is a very successful real estate developer who voted Democratic from 1992 through 2008 and didn't vote in 2012. Tiffany Cloud, 50, is a housewife married to a veteran, and a long-time Republican. Her husband Erik Olson gets a chapter of his own in recognition of the critical role veterans played in Trump's election, giving him a 2-1 margin. Steve Smith, 47, a truck driver, gets a chapter to himself because he's an active white nationalist who holds a leadership position in the county Republican party. And Jessica Harker, a 60-year old registered nurse, is a devout Christian who thinks that God chose Trump to save America.
Reading their stories, I felt that these men and women took politics very seriously and, in many cases, had come to their new views slowly. A good many, clearly, had been Democrats. They had watched the coal mines, and then various other industries, die around them over the last few decades thanks largely to globalization. Many of them had voted against George W. Bush and had greeted Barack Obama with some enthusiasm as an agent of change. But he had disappointed them for the same reasons, really, that he disappointed me: he had done very little, if anything, to reverse the economic changes that had disturbed them so much. The Democrats after 2008 had a chance to restore the nation's faith not only in themselves but in the whole political process, and they had failed to do so. These voters chose Trump because he was an outsider who rejected all the conventional wisdom. And because of that they were willing to excuse all his personal baggage. They also despised Hillary Clinton--and accepted a lot of the accusations against her that they had heard from Trump and on Fox News.
Democrats, it seems to me, have fallen into the trap of belief in their own moral superiority. That, they feel, entitles them to the votes of any reasonable American, and anyone who votes against them is some sort of deplorable. (Even Hillary Clinton, in the appearance in which she made that word famous, allowed that only half of Trump's supporters were racists, sexists, and homophobes; now the mainstream liberals I know are less likely even to be as generous as that.) But in fact, many of thee people refused to vote Democratic because they didn't feel the Democratic Party had done anything meaningful for them in decades, and I for one cannot say that I blame them. I will have more to say about this from another angle within the next month or so, after reading another much more important new book about global economic policy. The Luzerne county voters also dislike illegal immigration on principle--illustrating the consequences of the establishments failure to legalize it over the last three decades--and the spread of political correctness in the culture.
Bradlee concluded his book with a return visit to Luzerne County earlier this year, in which he found all his subjects still enthusiastically pro-Trump, while wishing that he could stop tweeting and moderate some of his rhetoric. The recent election, however, told a somewhat different story, there as elsewhere.
In 2016 the popular Lou Barletta was re-elected to Congress with a 64%-36% margin. Luzerne county was split between two Congressional districts and in the total vote the Republicans tallied 73,300 and the Democrats 58,200. This year the district was split between the new 8th and 9th districts, and the Democrats won 53,600 votes and the Republicans 54,000, suggesting that far more Republicans stayed at home. Barletta carried the vote for Senate handily in the county, but long-time Democrat Bob Casey, Jr., beat him 54-46 in the general election, at least temporarily ending his political career. Republican voters in many other parts of the country, as I showed last week, did shift to the Democrats, and the critical questions for 2020, obviously, are the identity of the Democratic candidate and the degree to which Trump's personal magic will continue to work on the voters who elected him so narrowly in 2016.